A close friend of mine sent me Tina Seelig's new book, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20. I just finished it. It is filled with a collection of stories, advice and inspiration about how to be more creative about your choices in life.
When I was 20 I don't think I could have understood her advice or any advice. I think the window of opportunity in ones life opens well after you can drink and after you graduate from college. Over the last 20 years, I have seen this pattern emerge and developed a theory that ones career life does not start until about the age of 26.
After talking to thousands of people of all ages, including hundreds of parents of college age kids, and more between the ages of 20-30, I have concluded that 26 marks the beginning of a pivotal chapter in ones career consciousness.
And if you are over the age of 26, don't worry this applies to you too! 😉
While you were in high school you formed the basic view of yourself, what you think you are good at and what you weren't. Your parents and others probably pushed you. We know that your brain's synaptic activity fell dramatically after the age of 15 due to the formation of neural pathways, your habits and your preferences. Puberty and your view of the world kicked in and altered your view of yourself and your chances by the time you got your high school diploma and headed to college.
According to the annual Freshman Survey, the three top goals of first year students in college, in order of preference, are expertise in their field (don't even have a major :), raising a family and financial comfort. The survey reflects the responses of 1.5 million college students from every state. These results have been consistent for 45 years. Because of the economy, financial comfort moved up the last 2 years.
Average college students change their major 2.5 times to find an enjoyable AND practical area of study. Most college grads do not use their major to find a job. They are almost all poorly prepared for the workforce and few have acquired real career development skills. Their ability to use networking and mentoring is rare. They defer their "dreams" because they have to make money to pay their student loans and if they were fortunate get off the parent's payroll. Although this is a much longer process than ever before.
About 5 years after graduation reality sets in. This is where I have encountered the 26 year old whose perspective shifts and search for meaning starts. All of the same Freshman Survey goals come back onto the dasboard. What is my expertise? (Do I need grad school?) When will I get married and/or when will I have kids? What is my plan to get the things I want? (house, retirement etc)
Why do we spend money we have not earned, to buy things we do not need, to impress people we do not like? Deepak Chopra
That's why I found it fascinating that the Freshman Survey did a follow-up study 10 years later when these former 200,000+ freshman were now 28ish. They were asked the same questions. So what were their top three goals now that they have a degree and had a healthy dose of the real world?
- Raise a family
- Develop a meaningful philosophy of life!
- Become an expert in their field
Develop a philosophy of life?! Yikes. A decade had passed and nothing changed except money was less important, they had not gotten married or had kids, they had no expertise, they still did not know what they wanted to be when they grow up and they needed a career GPS system! And on the bright side, they saw others needed help. That's all. 🙂
If your goal is to make meaning by trying to solve a big problem in innovative ways, you are more likely to make money than if you start with the goal of making money, in which case you will probably not make money or meaning. Guy Kawasaki
If you are not yet 26, invest in your search for meaning now, while you work and while you play. Start developing your philosophy of life—your pursuit of a life that interweaves your passions and your goals. Mixes and blends your strengths with a contribution to the greater good, however you define it. And answering the question: What is meaningful to you?
If you are over the age of 30, it is not too late. Afterall, 48 is the new 26! 🙂 Raising a family, a meaningful philosophy of life and expertise still may be very important to you. Your quest for greater fulfillment and your sense of contribution to something larger than you probably is growing. You are much more focused and time is more precious. You can begin a process of preparing for a life or career change, may be more challenging, but never too late to develop and amend your philosophy of life.
Regrets age you. Regrets can kill you.
The key to all of this is engaging others in your quest. In your journey. In your dreams. Getting help to pursue your ideas. Getting advice on what others have already learned and tried. Connect! Don't fall victim to the "do-it-yourself" trap. It never works!
A meaningful philosophy of life is not a job but a way of living–not just thinking and planning, but living! Living to do what you love doing AND strengthening the relationships that give you meaning.
Thanks for reading. John